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Dairy Industry.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 11 March 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ceisteanna (4)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

4 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his views on including the milk rights group on the recently established dairy consultative group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12147/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

In October 2009, I announced the establishment of a dairy consultative group so that I could ascertain the views of major stakeholders in the dairy sector on issues emerging at the EU Commission's high level group on the dairy sector.

The Commission established the high level group following a special meeting of the Council of Ministers on the dairy sector last October. It is chaired by the Commission's Director General of Agriculture, comprises representatives from all member states and is examining ways of stabilising dairy farmers' incomes and improving market transparency in the future. It will deliver a comprehensive report by the end of June this year.

The work programme of the high level group has been divided into four discussion blocks. Block 1 deals with contractual relations, the bargaining power of producers and price transparency, taking into account the experience of systems in place outside the EU. Block 2 examines the appropriateness of existing market instruments and the possibility of a futures market for dairy, again in the context of experiences in third countries. Block 3 covers information on markets and products: quality, health and labelling issues. Block 4 deals with innovation and research with a view to improving competitiveness.

There have been six meetings to date out of a total of about ten planned. In addition to exchanges of views between member states, the group has heard presentations from representative organisations for producers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers, and from non-EU countries. It has also had exchanges with leading academics and with representatives from DG Competition and national competition authorities. The next meeting on 16 March will look at block 3 issues.

The dairy consultative group is representative of the broad dairy sector in Ireland, and the organisations participating provide me with a wide range of views. In particular, the ideas, knowledge and expert opinion of the members will provide key perspectives on how the sector needs to be developed and supported into the future. The group is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. It is following the progress of the Commission high level group and I welcome its constructive input.

For practical reasons there is a limit to how many organisations can be represented on a group such as this and all of the main farming organisations are included. I am confident therefore that the dairy consultative group as currently constituted provides a suitably broad range of views and will assist me in preparing the Irish dairy sector for its longer term future. I am satisfied that the concerns of all Irish dairy farmers are being considered in this process. However, interested parties are welcome to keep in contact with my Department on milk policy issues as they arise and to make submissions on these matters. Such submissions will be taken into account in this process.

There is concern about the serious financial losses being suffered, particularly in 2009, by the dairy sector. The milk rights group is holding meetings all around the country and dairy farmers are flocking to those meetings in large numbers. They are expressing a level of support for the agenda the milk rights group is advancing. Whether one agrees with the agenda or not, it is an important voice in the context of the CAP post-2013 and the critical months that lie ahead. To use the old maxim, when formulating a policy everyone can subscribe to, it is better to have the group inside the tent, where its ideas can be bounced off others and we can secure the distilled wisdom of all partners. I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to take on board the criticisms. These people might be considered as mavericks but they represent a large number of disaffected dairy farmers who feel the current regime is not listening to them. The Minister is exposing himself to the marginalisation of a sector that enjoys increasing numbers and momentum and he should give these people a seat at the table so we can secure the distilled wisdom of all partners.

When a working group is being established, there are always more organisations and individual representatives seeking access and participating than it is possible to facilitate otherwise it would become unwieldy. Apart from the working group and the consultative group, the Department meets other groups. More than any other Department, it is open to meeting groups, consultation and policy input. The group mentioned can be facilitated with meetings at official level and its views will be considered, even if it does not participate in the working group's meetings. That group does not work on an ongoing basis. It has a number of meetings that coincide with developments following high level group meetings in Brussels.

Oireachtas Members from all parties come to me seeking the participation of various groups. There are often good reasons for their participation but it is not always possible to facilitate all groups. I can assure Deputy Creed, however, that because an individual or group does not participate in the working group, it does not mean its views will not be taken into consideration in the work of that group. There are disparate opinions in the dairy sector and we are listening to all sides about the particular issues and difficulties that have faced the dairy sector in the last 16 months.

The Minister is missing my point about this group. It is gathering momentum and represents a significant and growing number of farmers who feel the current regime does not enable them to make a living in the dairy sector. It is in all of our interests to ensure the maximum possible number of family farm units remain involved in dairying. One more seat at the table is not going to make a difference. If the Minister, however, is not willing to change his mind, and I urge him not to be hasty today, will he meet the group in the coming days and will he organise a meeting between the group and the senior administrators in the dairy consultative group?

This group would have met people at official level, although I am open to correction on that. We may be blamed at times for being too accessible to groups. The other groups represented on the consultative group also have disparate opinions on the dairy sector but the one viewpoint shared by everyone around the table is that the dairy industry has been going through a difficult time. It has improved, although the markets are still fragile, and we want to be sure we have prepared the industry for the abolition of quota that will happen in 2015. There are many issues there and more than anything else, the thing we need for dairy farmers is stability in incomes and adequate anti-volatility measures.

Will the Minister meet the group?

I have no problem with meeting groups, I am probably too accessible.

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